Behrooz Javid Tehrani: 11 Years in Prison For Exercising Freedom of Speech and Assembly
Contents of this testimony are based on what I know and believe to be true.
My name is Behrooz Javid Tehrani, and I was born in 1978. In 1999, I was an Agriculture major at Azad University (Tehran) and I was involved in the events following the assault on the University of Tehran student dormitories, starting the day after the assault, which resulted in my arrest. I spent four years in prison for this case, of which three months was spent in solitary confinement in Tohid Detention Center (formerly SAVAK’s Anti-Sabotage Joint Committee), seven months in the youth ward of Evin Prison, and about three years and two months in Raja'i shahr Prison of Karaj. On May 23, 2005, I was arrested again and this time served seven years in prison. In addition to these two arrests and long-term imprisonments, I was arrested four more times and, following my fifth arrest, served five months in wards 209, and 350 of Evin Prison. In 2011, they subtracted these five months from my seven-year prison sentence, and I was subsequently released. In total, I was arrested six times and served more than 11 years in prison, of which more than 10 years were spent in Raja'i shahr Prison of Karaj.
Activities before Arrest
I could not put up with the dominant situation in Iran, due to my own personal, mental, and psychological characteristics, and this is why I was drawn to political activities. Also, the family atmosphere in which I grew up was pretty political, and this had an effect on my activities.
Also, during Khatami’s presidency, the atmosphere in Iran, and particularly at the universities, was totally political. There was no internet in Iran, yet, at the time. I would leaf through reformist newspapers and listen to foreign radio stations. Books were beginning to be published more freely and, with that, I started to read more and follow the news.
I had no organizational connection to any such groups as the Islamic Association of Students or the alumni student association, Advar Tahkim Vahdat, or Mr. Mohammadi’s group, or any others, until 1999, and the extent of my activities was listening to radio, reading, following the news, keeping an ear open for announcements of gatherings and the like.
First Arrest: May 25, 1999, Laleh Park
Several Hours of Detention at the Police Station
I was first arrested during a sit-in at Laleh Park, where Heshmatollah Tabarzadi gave a speech. At that time, we used to listen to newly-established radio stations, such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. I had heard the call for this sit-in from these same stations. If I’m not mistaken, it was on May 25, 1999, when one of the Ansar-e Hezbollah members, who is himself out of the country now, arrested me on my way back from the sit-in on Keshavarz Blvd. I had had an altercation with him during the sit-in that had really upset him, and so when he saw me on Keshavarz Blvd., he got out of the car and arrested me. He took me to the police station on Felestin Sq., where they beat me up and held me for seven or eight hours, then let me go.
Second Arrest: July 9, 1999, Vali Asr Sq.
Four Years in Prison: Three Months of Solitary Confinement in Tohid Detention Center, Seven Months in the Youth Ward of Evin Prison, and the Rest in Raja'i shahr Prison in Karaj
It was 11:00 p.m. on July 9, 1999, when I heard of the assault on the University of Tehran student dormitories and, the next day, on Saturday morning, I went to the University of Tehran and participated in all the events until my arrest at 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. on Monday, July 12. On the day of my arrest, I was injured by a rock thrown by one of the plainclothes forces, and my face and head were bloodied. When I finally found an opportunity to wash my head and face, I suddenly found myself trapped between the forces on the north and the south of Vali Asr Sq., and they arrested me and threw me in a Toyota with a cage. Once the car passed the Hafez Bridge, the students were able to open the car door, and I jumped out, but the forces on motorcycles followed us and arrested us again. They took us to the Shapur Detention Center, where we were held until late that night. We received a hard beating for attempting to escape. They blindfolded me, and we went down a few stairs toward the basement. In the basement, they took away my wallet and belt and shoelaces, and I had to sign something. I hadn’t yet taken more than a few steps away from the table when the same motorcycle guy who had arrested me the second time did a gymnastics move [Salto] on me, and I fell to the ground. I was still blindfolded, and several of the officials started kicking me. They kicked me on my stomach, buttocks, legs, and even my head; all this because of my attempt to escape. Then they took me to a one-x-two square meter cell. There was another young man in that cell, a big built guy who said he was a pilot and had gotten in a fight to defend a young woman being beaten by Basij forces. He, too, was beaten heavily, and there were bruises all over his body. After a few minutes they called me and, if my memory serves me right, took me to a place two floors above the ground. I was blindfolded, but I could tell we had entered a big, chic, and air-conditioned hall. I could see from under my blindfold that there were a few comfortable manager armchairs in the middle of the hall and at least three people in the room. I could hear the operation forces communicating in codes via their two-way radios. One of the individuals present in the room came near and ordered me to strip naked. A scar from my childhood on my shoulder caught his attention. He insisted that I say it was a bullet scar. He then hit me a few times and asked me to do squats. Then he forced me to do push-ups: he said I had to do 100 push-ups and kicked me in the sides when I could not do it. After about an hour, I was taken back to my cell and my pilot cellmate, and I fell asleep. It was about midnight or 1:00 a.m. when they transferred us to Ward 209 of Evin Prison in a minibus.
Ward 209 of Evin Prison
One of the guards later told me that Ward 209 of Evin Prison had been abandoned from 1991 until the time they took us there, and so it was exceptionally dirty and primitive. There were no blankets, no plates, no basic provisions, and the carpet had been gathering dust for eight years. In the beginning, they would serve our food on a piece of bread instead of a plate, and we slept on the dirty carpet. In order to be able to sleep, I had to put the stale pieces of bread under the carpet to create a raised surface for my head to rest on. For the first four or five days, I was alone in the cell, but once I returned from interrogation, the cell had filled up completely. So I had to spend one night in the corridor of Ward 240. In those days, if both the cells and the corridors in Ward 209 were full, they would have the inmates sleep in the corridor of Ward 240.
After nearly one week of interrogations by inexperienced interrogators, they told me I had to produce a guarantor in order to be released. They then threw my stuff in front of me to pick them up. At that moment, one of the officials searched my bag and took out a phone number. When he saw that it was a foreign number, he asked me whose number it was. I told him that it was my aunt’s. He asked me what country it was. I said Germany. He told me to wait. When he returned, he told me that my release was cancelled, and now I had to wait for our home to be searched. After the search, which yielded a few leaflets, they transferred me to Tohid Detention Center. Up until this point, my interrogations had been handled by total amateurs who would basically ask the questions that were written down for them. One time, as I was writing my answers on a piece of paper they had given me, I turned the paper and saw that the questions were written in the back. There were 13 or 14 questions, such as, “Where were you arrested?,” and “What were you doing there?” “Has anyone from your family been executed?,” and the like. The interrogations were so simple and amateurish that they made me laugh, even though I was a first-timer. But once I was transferred to Tohid, professional interrogators took over.
The main reason I was convicted at this time was because of my participation in the events following the assault on the student dormitories, but finding the phone number of an abroad-based paper, and my communications with Radio Nedaye Omid, played a role in my receiving a harsher sentence. Nedaye Omid [Voice of Hope] was a Persian Christian radio station, and because bibles were nowhere to be found in Tehran, I had asked them to send me one, a year before my arrest; they had sent it, but it was confiscated at the post office, and the officials knew about that. I read all sorts of books, and I wanted to read the Holy Book too.
Tohid Detention Center (formerly the Anti-Sabotage Joint Committee) and Raja'i shahr Prison of Karaj: Three Months of Solitary Confinement
They transferred me from Ward 209 of Evin Prison to Tohid Detention Center. At Tohid, I was blindfolded during interrogations. There were several stages, including slapping, kicking, insulting, humiliating, threatening, and saying things like, “We have arrested your mother, as well.” One of the methods was to keep me on my feet for hours so I would confess to collaborating with enemy groups. One of the issues that mattered to them a lot was whether or not I had been at the Azadi sports stadium. I have no idea what had happened at the stadium that mattered so much to them. They kept saying, “We know you’ve been at the stadium too.” But all in all, even though I had participated in all the demonstrations and had accusations, such as connections to enemy groups and papers from abroad in my file, I received a lighter sentence, compared to some of the others convicted in relation to July 9th events. I was sentenced to only eight years in prison. To make up for the relatively light sentence, they exiled me to the Rajaishahr Prison in Karaj, 10 or 11 months into my detention, when the verdict was confirmed.
I was in solitary confinement for about three months at the Tohid Detention Center. For me, experiencing the first solitary confinement of my life, this was a lot to bear. One time, in 2005, I asked the interrogator from the Ministry of Intelligence which one he thought was better, Ward 209 of Evin Prison or the Tohid Detention Center. He said Tohid was much better, because, at Tohid, the inmates did not dare make the slightest noise, but Ward 209 emboldened the inmates. He was right; there really was a special sense of dread and horror at Tohid. We would hear screams, sounds of torture, hysterical laughs, etc. I don’t know whether they were taped or real, but they were such that we really didn’t dare even knock on the door or leave a card [to communicate with the guard] out twice in an hour. My only fun there was eating. I would wake up in the morning to the sound of breakfast being wheeled in; I would eat my breakfast and sit there and wait till I heard the lunch being wheeled in; then I would eat my lunch and wait till I heard the supper being wheeled in. Eating was the only thing that triggered the release of dopamine in my brain. It is very difficult to not have any input for your brain to analyze, no new information, no entertainment to busy the mind. In those conditions, one starts to have all sorts of thoughts, discouraging thoughts, bad memories from the past, thoughts of past mistakes; for instance, wishing that I hadn’t carried that phone number with me, so now I could be out on bail. These thoughts mess with your nerves. On the other hand, my main worry was my mother. I loved my mother very much, and they kept telling me that they had arrested her, too, and that she was held in the cell next door. I was a kid, and I had believed them to some extent. I remember very well that, in the first month and a half, I used to constantly search for my mother’s voice in the voices of the women crying on their way back from interrogation or those being beaten up while taken to the courtyard. This was very disturbing. Finally, after a month and a half, they allowed me to make a two-minute phone call to make sure that my mother was at home. My family did not know that I was held at Tohid. It was a very high-security place; I have never seen a detention center like that.
The solitary confinement cells at Tohid were two by one square meters. I would have liked to move, but because it was July and very hot, and I was sensitive to heat, I had to remain motionless, so as not to sweat too much. A member of Nehzat-e Azadi [the Freedom Movement of Iran] was in the cell next to mine, and sometimes we would talk to each other secretly. He told me that he had been detained there before the Revolution, as well, and the only difference now was that the windows had been reduced to one-eighth of their previous size. This is also what happened at Rajaishahr Prison. When I was there first, in 2000, the windows were about 1 by 1.5 meters in size. If you see the windows there now, you will find that many of them are only 1 by 0.5 meters, and in some wards even 20 by 30 centimeters. The windows at Tohid became smaller after the Revolution. This turned the solitary confinement cells, which had no air conditioning, into saunas in the summer. In addition to the heat, insomnia really bothered me.
The food at Tohid was great, and they would give you as much as you wanted, too, such that I gained several kilograms of weight while there. One time I had four servings of chicken kabob!
You could take showers twice a week. They would line everyone up and take us downstairs for showers. The quality of medical treatment at Tohid seemed good, though I never got sick and never had to see a doctor. They took me for an initial examination at the beginning, which went well. After that, I only got sedatives, a few times, for my insomnia.
I was constantly trying to find out what would become of my case. For instance, I would ask the guard who brought my food or took me to the bathroom, “What do you think will become of my case? What do they usually do with cases like mine?” He used to say, “They’ll take you and execute you.” Just like that. He said, “I hope you don’t get executed but, if you survive, make sure to repent!” Something to that effect. When I asked the interrogators, they usually did not answer. If they did, it was not a straight answer. At most they would say, “We are working on it; you need to cooperate, though; it cannot be like this, with you not cooperating; it’s up to you.” And things like that. I mean they would never give a response based on which one could make a decision or reach a conclusion.
I had an interrogator at Tohid whose nickname, I later learned from other inmates, was Sotudeh. Saeed Sheikhan himself interrogated me a few times, too. I was also interrogated about the Christian holy books once; it took about two minutes. Someone came and asked why I had requested such books. I said, because I wanted to read them. He left without saying anything more.
At Tohid, we used to hear the screams of people being tortured all the time; but because we were always blindfolded, we could not see anything. If we tried to raise our heads, even just a little bit, they would react very harshly. We could not maintain much contact with the other cells, either, except for an hour after lunch, when we knew the guard was gone for a rest, and we would speak to the person in the next cell very quietly, next to the cell door. Other than that, our communication and entertainment throughout the day consisted of punching the walls a couple of times and waiting for the person in the next cell to punch back. That’s it! I had no knowledge of the Morse code, either. Unlike in the movies, where everyone knows the Morse code, I, unfortunately, didn’t. But anyway, even the punching itself was good fun. Just the feeling that there was another human being next door going through the same ordeals and experiencing the same pain was enough to calm you down a little bit.
First Trial, Transfer to the Youth Ward of Evin Prison: Three Months after Arrest
After enduring three months of solitary confinement at Tohid, the interrogations ended, and they sent me to Ward 295 (now 350), which was for the youth, because of my young age. I had my first trial after three months of interrogation reports. I did not see the Judge at all on the day of my trial: only his Chief of Office. They took me to Branch 6 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran. The Judge’s Chief of Office was sitting there, and he started casting snide remarks and making fun of me. “You wanted to start a revolution, sissy boy?” Then he said, “We’ll do something so that you won’t dream of such things anymore. We’ll set you right. We’ve had martyrs. People have been killed. We’ve worked for this for years. Now you, a bunch of foppish boys and dapper pansies, think you can do these things?” When my file was brought in, he said, “Do you want an attorney or not?” I said yes, I wanted an attorney. He said, “Do you already know one you can take?” I said, “No, I have asked for a court-appointed attorney.” He wrote on my paper that they should send me to prison, and they delivered me to Evin Prison. At the fingerprinting unit of Evin Prison, I tried to present myself as older, because one of the political prisoners I had run into at the court had told me, “Whatever you do, just make sure you don’t go to the youth ward!” I tried to present myself as older there, but they did not accept it. They said, “It says 21 in your court papers.” I had said I was 26. They did not accept it and sent me to the youth ward, which was, indeed, a horrible ward.
Youth Ward (295) of Evin Prison
As soon as I arrived at the youth ward of Evin Prison, they shaved my head and then let me in. I remember, at the time, about 45 people would sleep in a 30 square meter room with 16 or 17 beds. I slept on the floor. We had to lie on our shoulders in order to fit. My first night in prison was spent like this. Inmates in the youth ward ranged from 18 to 25 years in age. Because of the shortage of amenities, fights ensued constantly among the inmates. They had reduced the food portions for the inmates. They would serve rice in our plates, using a tea cup, topped with a spoonful of stew. For this reason, we were always hungry. We had to forgo our rights many times just so there wouldn’t be a fight. There were times when young inmates would cut each other to pieces with knives over a small cup of tea. There was not even a thermos available, so we would pour tea in soda bottles and wrap them in blankets to keep the tea warm. It was there that I learned about lice for the first time. It really brings you down to your knees. Because we could not keep clean, we could not get rid of the lice, no matter what. We would tell the health clinic, we would use pesticides, but nothing affected the lice. During that period, political prisoners who had no prior experience of prison had a very hard time. It was such that I wished I could go back to solitary confinement. One time a huge fight erupted in the ward over a spoonful of mayonnaise. Every time they served hardboiled eggs and baked potatoes, mayonnaise would disappear fast, because it was the only thing one could eat with eggs and potatoes. This time, one of the non-political prisoners came into the room and asked one of the July 9th political prisoners from a well-to-do background for a spoonful of mayonnaise. He said, “I’m sorry, but I have only one spoonful left, and I’m saving it for my breakfast tomorrow.” The guy just grabbed the “shar” (the mattress) on the upper decker bed on which our friend was lying and pulled him onto the floor, where he started kicking and punching him. Anyway, fights like this always happened, but ,fortunately, we were able to talk to prison authorities early on and to make them put all political prisoners in the same room. In early 1999, there were 55-56 of us. Then our guys started getting released on bail, one after another, and our ward became less and less populated. When it got too sparse, they started to bring non-political prisoners to our ward.
Second Trial and Issuance of the Verdict: Five Months after Arrest
About five months after my arrest, I was taken to court for the second time. My appointed attorney came and asked me a few questions right outside the Judge’s office and in the presence of his Chief of Office and a clerk. It seemed as though he was more interested in continuing the interrogations and collecting information from me than in defending me. He said, “If there is anything in your file that you haven’t told them about yet, you can tell me now; it’s not too late.” He did nothing to defend me in legal terms. In fact, his defense was nothing but requesting pardon and acquittal. That was the only day I saw my attorney. I mean, the attorney himself did not attend the trial. He just came that one time and wrote the defense statement and submitted it to the court. He told me,“The judge has a very positive view of you.” I said, “Does that mean that I’m free to go?” He said, “No, it means you won't be executed!” I did not see that attorney ever again. After a while, the verdict was issued.
I only saw the Judge once. He asked me a few questions, and I just repeated the things I had said in the interrogations. He asked about my father. I said my father did not talk about himself or political issues. He asked about Christianity and other religions. I said I loved all books, particularly if they were about different religions. He asked about the events around the student dormitories and where all I had been. I said I had no longer participated in demonstrations since the day they were announced forbidden. I was referring to the day that Khamenei forbade going out, and they announced on television that nobody was to come out to the streets. Participation in gatherings had been forbidden since Sunday night, and there had been an official statement on television announcing that gatherings of more than two or three people were forbidden. So, I said that I had by no means left the house with the intention of joining the gathering on the day of my arrest and was in fact on my way to the movies. He asked how come I was injured, then. I said, because people threw rocks and one of them hit my head. They had also found a few leaflets at my home, which we had printed for July 11th to distribute during demonstrations. I had written them myself, and they did contain insult to the leadership ("Down with Khamenei"). At the end, I don’t know if they believed that I had not engaged in any organizational activities for any particular group, or not. But the truth was that I hadn’t.
At the end, I was charged with the following: “attempt against national security, through association and collusion; connection to enemy groups; and insulting the leadership.” With these charges, I was sentenced to eight years in prison. Although eight years was still a lot, my sentence was relatively lighter compared to what the other kids got. So I was pleased, all in all.
As for the Radio Nedaye Omid issue, they opened a criminal case for me for apostasy, but no verdict was issued. The case is still open to this day, and I am free with no bond. Only in 2004, when they told me to leave the country, and I didn’t, they summoned me to court for apostasy, but basically they just wanted to scare me by reminding me that I had an apostasy case open. They never pursued it seriously, because there was nothing worth pursuing in my file. It was not criminal to request or receive books; they could not make a criminal case for these, even in their own court.
The interesting point is that my father did not even dare pursue my case at the time, because of his own history; he was afraid that if he did this, he would call attention to himself and what he himself had been and done. He had even asked me not to call him on the phone for a while. Incidentally, because of his own record of expulsion from the army and interrogation at the Anti-Sabotage Joint Committee, my father was, in general, against involvement in political activities. But the interrogators of the Ministry of Intelligence already knew everything about my father’s history. I could tell, because, when they wanted to insult me, they would say things like, “It is because your father has been such and such that you have turned out this way; you grew from the wrong seeds.” During the interrogations, they would insult and humiliate me and say things like, “Tell us what you’ve done in your childhood; who has fucked your ass?” (Excuse my language.). There were many of these humiliating remarks to degrade a detainee.
Finalization of Verdict and Transfer to Rajaishahr Prison, May 2000, 10-11 Months after Arrest
Around 10 or 11 months after my arrest, in May 2000, the final verdict was issued and, exactly the next day, after about seven months in the youth ward of Evin Prison, they sent me to Rajaishahr Prison and held me there until June 2003, when I was pardoned by the Leadership and subsequently released. The reason why I was transferred to Karaj was that six years of my sentence had to be served in exile in one of the prisons in Karaj. They took me out of Evin Prison and transferred me to the Raja'i shahr Prison in a minibus.
Raja'i shahr Prison was a place of exile. Anytime a prisoner behaved disruptively, and they wanted to punish him, they would send him to Rajaishahr. There were exiled prisoners there from everywhere, from Tabas, Mashhad, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Shiraz. The only thing that was rare at Rajaishahr was political prisoners.
At Raja'i shahr, first I was put in quarantine. Quarantine is a part of the prison where all the new inmates have to stay for a couple of nights. At that time, the doors of the quarantine rooms were closed, but the toilets had no doors and the inmates had to relieve themselves in the presence of the guard. Things improved in later years, however, and the quarantine system as a whole was transformed. Later they took me to Terminal Ward 5, where all the new inmates passed through. The inmates that had to stay in prison were, after a while, distributed from the terminal ward to other wards. Rajaishahr, at that time, was nothing to be compared to what it is now. The conditions were much worse back then. I remember exactly how they shaved our heads completely upon arrival. This was the rule at Rajaishahr, that all the heads had to be completely shaved. I always say that the reform movement came to Rajaishahr with a four-year delay. At Rajaishahr, everyone had to be in prison uniform, whether inside or outside the ward. All heads shaved, the only blankets were the ones provided by the government, There were no glass cups, and you would see no colors but grey. Everything was grey: the uniforms; the decrepit pieces of carpet on the floor; and when the hall itself was alright, [then there were] the flooring in the hallways; the blankets; everything. Each of us had two blankets and a plastic cup and pitcher that we had to buy from the prison store. The store did not have much. I just remember that it had cigarettes, peas, raisins, tea bags, sugar cubes, plastic pitchers, plastic cups, jam, kilka fish, and tuna fish. I remember I went to take a shower, and I started crying in the shower, because there were no political prisoners at Rajaishahr, and this was very hard for me. I kept asking myself why they had transferred me, of all people, to this place.
At Rajaishahr, the fights were much harsher, the corruption networks much more intense and, in general, the atmosphere was very aggressive and brutal. Everyone there had heavy sentences and a great many were on death row. The bulk of the inmates consisted of drug dealers sentenced to death, armed robbers, and murderers. Normally, those with drug-related charges would be held in Ghezelhesar Prison, but because of the high security rate at Rajaishahr, they kept the ones on death row there. Death row inmates would stay at Rajaishahr until their sentences were carried out or canceled. In 2009, I witnessed the transfer of 25 inmates at one time from Ghezelhesar to Rajaishahr for execution. At Rajaishahr, we were with adult inmates, and the atmosphere was far worse and filthier than the youth ward of Evin Prison.
As in the youth ward of Evin Prison, Rajaishahr was infested with lice. There were so many thieves and homeless and poor people in Karaj, and they were usually transferred to Rajaishahr from police stations, bringing in lice with them. There was no getting rid of the lice at Rajaishahr, but I had almost learned how to deal with them. I had managed to acquire three or four sets of clothes; I would wear each set for a few days, then take it out and put it away in a plastic bag. After seven to ten days in the bag, the lice would die, having not found enough blood to feed off of. At any rate, I had more or less managed to find a temporary solution to the lice problem for myself. But eventually, the lice would find their way back to my body from another inmate in a couple of days. Lice are a terrible thing. You would be scratching yourself all day long, and then there would be sores and wounds and lots of trouble.
At Rajaishahr, one of our main problems was shortage of space. Five of us would have to sleep in small solitary confinements made for a single person. There are cells like that in Ward 209 of Evin Prison, too, and I have heard they call them Pennsylvania cells. They were two-by-two-and-a-half square meters in size, and part of this space was taken up by the facilities. In a ward that accommodated about 700 or 800 people, there were only four bathrooms total. As a result, pretty much most of our time was spent in line for the bathroom, the shower, the store, and so forth. One night, when the bathroom on one of the floors was out of order, the line for the other bathroom went on as long as three floors worth of stairs. If one of the bathrooms did not work, you would have to stand in line for hours. Another problem was water cut-offs. At that time, we had almost no water from the morning until the evening. As soon as it got dark, they would turn on the water. There were no refrigerators. They would sell us ice for cool water during the summer.
Another problem that we had at Rajaishahr was extended fresh air breaks. They would wake us up at 8:00 a.m. and take us out for fresh air. They would keep inmates from all of the three halls of the ward in the courtyard for an hour in order to do a headcount. Because there were so many of us, we hardly had space to take a step in any direction. There were three halls in every ward, and when they let the inmates from all of them in the courtyard, there was no room for movement. Rajaishahr Prison has three floors and each ward has three halls, one on each floor. We would all go out for fresh air in the mornings, all in prison slippers, uniforms, and with shaved heads. Imagine an enormous crowd, all in grey outfits, with the scale of justice printed all over them, all with shaved heads, all continuously smoking since the minute they woke up, all with scratchy throats and spitting out mucus on the floor, which you have to take care not to step in when you move. I remember these scenes vividly, and they are among my most disturbing memories.
After an hour, when they were done counting, we would go up and have half an hour to eat breakfast. Hot water was 10 tomans per pitcher. We would make tea for breakfast in the plastic pitcher, with the tea bags that we had bought from the store. We had to do this, because the hot water they provided was already cold by the time it reached the ward from the kitchen. We would buy the hot water from the guy in charge of the electric samovar in the hall. One of the inmates had bought several electric samovars, rented the kitchen space, and sold hot water to the other inmates. He had to pay a big monthly fee to the prison administration for this. He was from Hashtgerd. He had murdered two people and was later executed. For breakfast, they would give us butter (10 to 15 grams) one day, butter and jam (10 to 15 grams) another day, and cheese yet another day. At the beginning, the bread was really bad and doughy, but later they changed the baker. All in all, the food at Rajaishahr was better than the food at the youth ward of Evin Prison. Maybe not so much the quality, but at least the quantity was better. The first time I could hold a bowl of rice in my hands at Rajaishahr, I was very happy.
After finishing our breakfast in half an hour, we were taken out for fresh air again in the heat and had to stay there until 12:00 noon. The place was infested with flies. In a two-by-three square meter room, you would only have to move something around in the air fast enough for ten flies to fall down and die. At noon, they would let the inmates go up for prayers. Then we would eat lunch and have two hours for siesta afterwards. Because the ward was so small and tight, it would stink if they didn’t force the inmates to go out for breaks frequently. But these breaks prevented us from getting anything done. Two hours after lunch, they would throw us out for a break again.
At that time, the control at Rajaishahr was very tight. For example, every time I was summoned by the head of the ward, he would tell me, “Make sure you don’t gather people around you and speak for them. If I see you […] .” I would just keep silent. Usually, I was not one to frequent the more visible spots or catch the eyes much. But when one of the guards called me a hypocrite, I snapped back and, as a result, I was exiled to the worst ward, where all the exiled inmates were. In those days, wards 1 and 4 were among the worst in the prison. The doors were always closed in these wards, and there were very few breaks. Whoever misbehaved in these two wards would be sent to Ward 6. In my case, they took me straight to Ward 6, where fresh air brakes were very short and only the most dangerous inmates were held. Every hall in Rajaishahr Prison had a prayer room and I started sleeping in the prayer room of Hall 11 at Ward 6. This coincided with the evacuation of the Qasr prison and the transfer of the inmates from Qasr to Rajaishahr, and suddenly there were too many inmates. For a few months, I would sleep on the floor of the prayer room, where people were constantly coming and going, and there was lots of dust. But after two or three months, they gave me a bed, and then, after a while, I made friends with one of the inmates in Hall 11 and moved to their room. However, later, they changed all the numbers and assigned new numbers to all the wards and halls, and we never understood the real reason for these changes. I only know that, when I returned to Rajaishahr in 2005, all the ward and hall numbers had been changed.
Before the Persian New Year (Noruz) in March 2001, I had a fight with one of the inmates. He said something nasty to me, and I broke his nose, so they sent me to solitary confinement. Of course, this was a critical issue, and I just had to beat him up, because this was a very dangerous prison, and I was very young. At 21 years old, I was legally not to be sent to that ward, because the other inmates there gave the juvenile inmates a special treatment. Anyway, I was in solitary confinement for a week and, thankfully, in the spring of 2001, they made some changes in the prison, and the exile ward was emptied altogether, and they decided to turn it into the youth ward. So, they transferred all the inmates from this ward to the other wards, and I was transferred, once again, to Ward 5 and was held there for a year and some months.
In Ward 5, I tried not to catch the eyes of the ward guard very much and behaved very cautiously, so that they would not decide to move me again. This was because this ward was much better than the exile wards. I just tried to make sure that the head of the ward didn’t see me, so that he wouldn’t be reminded to move me. At any rate, I was there for about a year this time, until one day during Ramadan when I slept through the headcount. I did not wake up in time for the afternoon headcount, and the guard wrote down my name for not showing up, and I was transferred to Ward 3 as a result. Even though I was, in fact, exiled to Ward 3, it was not necessarily a worse place. Ward 3 was for inmates charged with financial crimes, and it was even better than Ward 5. I remember it was on the third floor of this ward that I made friends with a guy named Rahman Kurdi (we put our money together and shared what we bought), who was a supporter of the People’s Mojahedin organization, and he took me to their room before I was officially placed. He was an old man with liver cancer, and they didn’t do anything for him. He was perishing right before our eyes, and they only took him to the hospital two days before he died. Rahman Kurdi was, in fact, only a supporter of the Mojahedin organization. He himself had never attempted anything; his only crime was making phone calls and informing organization members. After Behzad Marvi, he was the second political prisoner that I ran into. Of course, they also brought in a couple of pan-Turkists and a few belonging to the “Elm-e Haq va Edalat” order of dervishes there, but they soon released them. It was in the winter of 2002 that I heard of Rahman Kurdi’s death in Ward 3.
My Mother’s Death and My Release in 2003
Visits at Rajaishahr were divided by gender: one week for female visitors and the next week for male visitors. My poor mother came to visit me every other week on female visitors’ week. My brother also came to visit me every once in a while. There was a 10,000 toman limit on the money we were allowed to receive from our families. This was to prevent bribes, gambling, and so forth. As a smoker, I would spend more than half of this amount on cigarettes, so I was always short on money. Especially if, on one week, something came up, and my mother could not make it, I would be really desperate for money. This was until Samin Cards (a kind of debit card) came to prison and there was pretty much no limit to the amount of money that could be put on these cards.
In those days, the law was such that we could ask for furloughs from prison after three months. I asked for mine right then, but they said that, as a political prisoner, I was not eligible for a furlough. They said that I needed the Public Prosecutor’s permission for that, and the Public Prosecutor never granted me permission. My mother went to the Public Prosecutor many times, but he kept saying that he had not received a letter concerning my temporary release from the prison yet, while the prison officials kept saying that they had sent the letter and that the ball was in the Public Prosecutor’s court; anyway, this was the game they played, being masters at bureaucratic ball passing. Even later, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized, I tried very hard to go visit her in the hospital, but they did not give me permission.
On May 4, 2003, my mother passed away. I remember, in our last visit, they brought her in on a wheelchair; she could not walk anymore. She could not even visit me during my last six months in prison, since she was hospitalized. Hearing of her passing in prison was very hard. I requested to attend her funeral in cuffs and shackles, at least, but they did not respond to my request for forty days, and only after her forty-day commemoration ceremony, 2 or 3 days before the end of my term, they responded negatively. Ali Mohammadi, the internal manager of the prison, called me and asked, “Have you requested a guarded furlough?!” I said yes and explained my situation. He said, “We can’t; we do not have enough guards to accompany you!” Anyway, this is how they refused me even a guarded furlough, while they would allow non-political prisoners to attend funeral ceremonies, even if in cuffs and shackles.
Forty three days after my mother’s death, if I’m not mistaken, on June 16, 2003, I was released from prison. I think it was a week after my mother’s death when I was suddenly informed that my prison term had been reduced from eight years to four. Later, I learned that my sentence and those of the others arrested in relation to the student dormitory events had been reduced following an order from the Leadership back in the spring of 2000, and the only reason they had not notified me earlier was so that I would not be able to use a conditional release clause and get out of prison in two years as opposed to four.
I think the reason why they were so hard on us was because, at Rajaishahr, the prison guards were still the same ones who were there during the 1980s, and the last political prisoners they had seen were the 80s political prisoners. The new personnel had not arrived yet. These were old guards who could hardly speak Persian; they spoke with very heavy Lori or Turkish accents. They had not seen any political prisoners since the 1980s and, therefore, their feelings towards political prisoners came from those days. In fact, by the term ‘political,’ they meant those who were executed in the 80s. They repeatedly said, “Too bad you did not fall prey to us in the 80s. What a pity that you arrived this late.”
After my release, I lived alone in Tehran, and it was then that I learned about the internet for the first time. I started learning to work with computers and the internet and reading books online. I really liked the internet, because I felt it was a free space and one could work on it. I spent a lot of time on it, and my progress was good, too.
It was through the internet that I got to know people in the Democratic Front and started working with them. Later I was arrested two or three times for collaborating with the Democratic Front and for participating in gatherings in front of the United Nations office in Tehran.
Third Arrest: July 8, 2004, Laleh Park
15 Days in Detention: Police Station # 48 (Enqelab) and Ward 209 of Evin Prison
This went on until July 9, 2004. Exactly two weeks before the anniversary of the July 9th (1999) student dormitory events, we decided to publish a weekly called Jame’ which was to be a continuation of Mr. Tabarzadi’s weeklies: Hoviyat-e Khish [Our Own Identity] and Payam-e Daneshjoo [Students’ Message]. We had an office in Fatemi Sq., exactly halfway between Enqelab Sq. and the University of Tehran student dormitories. It was a chic place across the street from Laleh Park and right at the heart of the social and political developments in those years. The first issue was due just after July 9th. The commemoration ceremonies were to start after 12 noon. On July 9th, at about 2:00 p.m., I and a couple of friends of mine went to check out the ceremonies, just to cover them for our weekly. Nothing happened until the evening. Then, as it got darker, more people came, and young people started to make some fires and chant some slogans. There was an agile young man among them who kept running around and was very active. Once, as he was running, a police officer, hiding behind a bush or something in Laleh Park, tripped him. The young man fell down, and the police officer started to beat him up. When I saw this, I felt as though it was me being beaten up back in 1999. The crowd was big, and suddenly I started chanting, “Security forces, shame on you, shame on you!” At the time, I expected that others behind me would start to chant with me but, suddenly, a police officer ran towards me and hit me in my face with his two-way radio. I turned back and saw that everyone had run away, except for the two guys who had come with me from the office. So, anyway, we got arrested. I didn’t resist much, as I had my press card with me, and I hadn’t done anything besides chanting a slogan once. They held us, first in the park cafeteria and then in the park’s guard kiosk for a few hours. I protested to them profusely about why they were beating up that young man and why they had hit me in the face with a two-way radio and things like that. Things were very different during Khatami. As long as you stayed within the law, you could still do things. I had also learned well how to demand my rights within the law.
They took us to Police Station # 48 (the Enqelab branch). They also found a poor drunk fellow in the park and added him to our case; they said we had been drunk and chanting slogans. This was the story they published on the website of the armed forces (NAJA) too. This is while we had been taken to the Judiciary doctor on the same night and asked to blow into a device to check our breath for alcohol, and the physician there had confirmed that none of us four had had any alcohol. Still, they kept us at the police station. We were held in a completely dark room where all the drug addicts and robbers and wife-beaters and alike were kept. Everyone there was intoxicated somehow. They would not take us to the bathroom, and they did not give us any food either. Serving food is a totally alien concept at the police detention center, in general. Basically, no one detained at the police station can expect to eat anything, unless his/her family comes to visit and brings a sandwich or something, and that, only if the guard allows.
Anyway, they harassed us at the police station for a week, then delivered us to Ward 209 of Evin Prison. There I objected to the fact that we had been beaten up and asked why we had been transferred to Evin. At Ward 209, they could find nothing of substance in our file. We had to fill in a page at the interrogation, telling them about ourselves, and I wrote that I had been passing through Laleh Park, because our office was there, when I saw them beating this young guy up and I told them they had to be ashamed of themselves; then they arrested us and brought us here; we had not chanted any slogans.
They decided to release us on bail. One of my friends came and was able to bail all four of us out.
Fourth Arrest: In front of the United Nations Office
In the summer of 2004, they arrested two members of the Student Committee in Defense of Political Prisoners. I and a few of my friends organized a sit-in in front of the United Nations office.
They arrested us and took us to the Security Police (Security Force Headquarters of Greater Tehran). Then after three or four days, they transferred us to Ward 209 of Evin Prison. We were all interrogated at 209 and all my friends were released on very light bail.
My bail, however, was refused and I was not released. The interrogator told me, “I did want you to be released. I know you haven’t committed any crime. You are innocent. But you haven’t done your compulsory military service. You have to go serve.” I asked what I was to do then. He said I had to wait until the 18th of the month; then I would be handed over to the army. I was to serve in the town of Birjand. I said Okay, I would go serve. But of course I had no such intention, because I despised weapons and militarism. I spent about two extra weeks at Ward 209. After two weeks, one morning they handcuffed me, got me in a Peugeot, and took me to the South Tehran bus terminal. Army buses were waiting there, so were two military guys. They got me out of the Peugeot, took off my handcuffs, and handed me over to these two guys. They also handed a sheet of paper to one of the guys. The first question this guy asked me was: “Do you want to serve or not?” I said, sure! He said, “Okay then, you will be the head of this group.” I was the oldest of the group of guys there to start their military service, and that’s why this role was assigned to me. The other guys were 18, 19, and I was 25. Anyway, I became the head of this group. There was a line of about 200 guys. I took charge of organizing the line, telling people to sit down or sit straight and such. When I got to the end of the line, I started to run away. I am a good runner; I take long strides and can be really fast. I started to run across the bus terminal. Then I jumped over the first fence that I saw and got out of the bus terminal and into a taxi, and off I went.
For a while after that, I went into hiding and did nothing. This actually worked quite well for them, as they wanted me to disappear, and disappear I did. I was travelling for three or four months, just to stay away for a while. I went to Mashhad, to the North, to different places; I was usually not in Tehran.
Fifth Arrest: In front of the United Nations Office
Five Months in Prison: Two Months of Solitary Confinement in Ward 209 of Evin Prison, Three Months in Wards 1 and 305 of Evin Prison
After a while, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi went on hunger strike, and his was a long one. He is a kind of guy who, when he goes on hunger strike, everyone knows that he really means it. I remember it had lasted for 35, 39, or maybe even 40 days, when we decided to organize a sit-in in front of the United Nations office so that his demands might be met and he might break his strike. I don’t remember exactly what his demands were. Anyway, the plan was for everyone to gather there. A large number of people were coordinated for this. Tabarzadi’s own family also attended. Perhaps 70 or 80 people were arrested in front of the United Nations office that day. I did not have any particular role. I didn’t even want to be present at the sit-in. Only because I had a motorcycle, I was supposed to take a few placards and cameras from our office and deliver them to our guys at the sit-in to cover the event. I parked my motorcycle a block away from the United Nations office. I did not even make it to the sit-in. Apparently, as I was passing by on my motorcycle, Doctor (one of the political activists) had seen me and he stopped me and started to greet me with hugs and kisses. This was the first time I ever met Doctor but, apparently, he had recognized me from my pictures. We were greeting each other when a brown Mercedes Benz stopped, and they arrested both of us. I really hadn’t done anything; all I had with me on my motorcycle was a few placards with the words “Free Political Prisoners” on them and pictures of some of the political prisoners with heavy sentences at the time. The thing is I wasn’t even in the sit-in, and I hadn’t even had a chance to do anything yet. Anyway, the intelligence officials pushed both of us into the Mercedes Benz and took us straight to Ward 209 of Evin Prison. They had ID cards and treated us very politely. They did not have an arrest warrant, Actually, I didn’t ask them for one, but it was clear that we stood no chance of getting away. First, they didn’t tell us that they were arresting us. They said they had a few words with us and wanted us to sit in the car with them for a minute. Then we were taken to Ward 209 and interrogated yet again. In the interrogations, I said that the papers and the placards were not mine and that the motorcycle had simply been parked there, and so forth.
The questions asked at the interrogations mostly concerned the activities of the Democratic Front. I remember about 70 people were arrested in front of the United Nations office that day, including the families of political prisoners. They took me and three others to Ward 1 of Evin Prison for detention. I spent four or five months total in detention, and since there was nothing substantial in my file, they released me on bail.
In those days, we always acted like they owed us something. This was the tone we always used, and it wasn’t like we were going to sit there meekly and suffer through solitary confinement. We easily made a lot of noise from our cells in solitary confinement and chanted slogans. There was even this one time when the interrogator hit me in the back of my head, and I got up and pushed him and hit him in the face. Things had come to this point. I mean, it really had become like a mutual battle. We totally retaliated. For example, they asked me for commitment that we would stop our activities, and this time I had reason to give them a piece of my mind; I said I made a commitment last time, but you did not release me; instead, you took me for compulsory military service; so I came to sit in here to protest.
After five months, I got into an argument over something with Momeni, the deputy head of the prison. It was in the evening, and we were watching TV. I was smoking and did not realize that the deputy head had walked in for inspection. He saw me with the cigarette and asked, “Don’t you know it’s forbidden to smoke in closed areas?” I said, “Open the door, so I can go smoke in the courtyard, then.” This is while they never opened the door to the courtyard at night. He was upset by what I said and exiled me to Ward 350. Later I was taken to court, and the court issued a 20,000,000 toman bail agreement for me, and with that bail I was released in the winter of 2004.
After that, I tried to act very cautiously. For a time I was working hard on a website, trying to start a news section on it and give it a more professional makeover, while at the same time secretly working with the Democratic Front. Then one of my friends moved in with me, and we became housemates.
Sixth Arrest: May 23, 2005, Personal Residence
Seven Years in Prison: Three Months of Solitary Confinement in Ward 209 of Evin Prison, the Rest in Rajaishahr Prison
My new housemate and I were very passionate about our work. After a while we decided that working in the virtual world alone was not enough and that we had to extend our work to the actual world as well, because the percentage of people who had internet was not very high anyway. We had to start a social movement in the real world, in the streets, for instance, and not just on websites. The problem with our generation, the generation that started to resist and struggle, was that we were out of touch with the previous generation, and we never managed to learn from their experiences. It was all trial and error, and we constantly paid a price, but there was no one to provide us with any guidance.
This is how we decided to start writing slogans on the walls, distributing flyers, making placards, and things like that in the society. Apparently, on one of these nights when we were out doing these things, they had come and taken pictures of us, as we were later shown these pictures when we were held at the intelligence detention center. On that night, my housemate and I and another person had gone out and written slogans and posted statements and flyers and such along the Modarres highway in Tehran.
The next day, on May 23, 2005, at about 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.,, my housemate and I were sleeping when suddenly the door was broken open and eight or nine people stormed in. I was under the blanket and was woken up by the sound of the door breaking, but everything happened so fast that I couldn’t make any move. One of the officials held a gun to my face, while another pulled out the blanket. While the officials were busy searching the house, I managed to call one of my friends from a cordless phone in the back of the house and told him that we were being arrested. When they saw that I had made a call, they became very angry and started kicking and punching and slapping me, and then they handcuffed and blindfolded both me and my housemate.
At the moment that they entered the house, one of them showed me his military service completion card and said, “Police!” I said I didn’t have anything to do with the Police. “Are you sure you are not from the intelligence ministry?” He asked me to be quiet and sit down. While in the house, they didn’t tell us much about why we were being arrested, but on that day in general they were very rude to us. The house search took about an hour. They turned the house upside down and took anything they could, including the computer, about 2000 Iranian flags, some family photos, and some books. They didn’t choose any books in particular and just took the seven or eight that were on the dining table and were clearly being read recently. They didn’t touch the books on the shelves. They also never returned any of the books that they had taken.
I felt particularly bad about one of the books not being returned, because it was a handwritten copy of a manuscript by my late lawyer, Behmanesh, which he had given me to edit, and I was really ashamed that it was never returned, since it was the only copy of his manuscript.
When they went for the family photos, I protested, “Don’t touch my family album!” One of them hit me in the head with his two-way radio as he made me sit facing the wall. At that time, they only hit hard enough to leave some bruises and such. Another interesting point was that only my name was written on the arrest warrant they had in hand, and my housemate’s name was missing. However, the representative of the Public Prosecutor was there, and he asked my housemate's name and put it on the warrant right there. The warrant was printed with empty slots which they could fill in.
They were all plainclothes officials. About five pencil-grey Peugeots were parked in front of our house. They put us in one of the cars and our stuff in another, and we took off. I don’t know what they had told the neighbors, but they had all come outside and were watching us in shock. The cars did not bear any special signs or anything and looked exactly like personal cars.
We asked what they were arresting us for. They said we would know at the interrogation. On that day, one of the Ministry of Intelligence officials that I had seen back in 2010 was there, too. I asked him what they were arresting us for. He said I would know at the interrogation. At any rate, the Ward 209 intelligence officials arrested us on that day, and the morning after our arrest, in the morning of May 24th, they took both of us to the Revolutionary Court where our charges were stated, taking about 10 minutes.
In the interrogations and at the court, they asked me if I were responsible for publishing photos of the gathering of political prisoners. They meant photos of the gathering of 150 people on Qaem-Maqam St. in front of the United Nations office, not the gathering in which we were arrested. This was a different gathering, which had gone well with no arrests made. The only problem with this one was that the UN office had moved the day before the gathering. I said yes, I had published the photos. He asked whether I had also made them available to the People's Mojahedin, which I said I hadn't. He asked whether I had made them available to a certain human rights group. I said yes, I had made them available to tens of people, including the group in question. He said well, then, this individual is the main contact person of the Mojahedin organization. Basically he made this into the evidence for my connection to the People's Mojahedin, for which I was sentenced to another four years in prison, in addition to 74 lashes that I received in 2010. This is while they knew full well that there was no connection, and they only used this as an excuse to issue a heavy sentence.
Interrogations in Ward 209
Interrogations started as soon as we were taken to Ward 209. My interrogator, Saeed Sheikhan, asked what I had been doing the night before. I said I had been watching TV. He suddenly pulled out a few photos and put them in front of me: “Watching TV on Moddares Highway, were you?!” I said it was not me in the pictures. Since they were taken with a digital camera at night, the photos were a bit hazy, and I denied that they were of me. I was interrogated for three or four months, most of which was spent recounting films. The interrogations were not very harsh.
After the first couple of days, interrogations turned into mostly film recounting sessions. My interrogator said, “I have only called you in because I want to talk to you. I like you and enjoy speaking with you.” The next ten or fifteen sessions were basically spent recounting films. I found it really weird. The interrogator would just sit there and recount films for me, pour me tea, and give me cigarettes; that's all. It rarely happened that he would ask a question relevant to my case, or bring up a topic just to see my reaction. Maybe he talked so much in order to make me talk and confess to things.
Anyway, I was interrogated in this way for three or four months. The whole thing about the photos was only brought up in the first couple of sessions. Then we were off for ten or fifteen days. And then the film recounting sessions took on. The first interrogation was done at about 11:00 or 12:00 on the same night that we had been arrested. The rest of the interrogations after that were mostly in the afternoon and usually took between two and three hours. The interrogations were not very harsh. Sheikhan was a very professional interrogator. He was not aggressive. He treated me very politely. Most of my conflicts were with the guards, and that because I wanted to be transferred from 209 to another ward as soon as possible.
Although we denied that the pictures were of us, the truth was that they had so many photos of us that there was no room for denial. They had photos of us in all the other places we had been in the previous two to three weeks. For instance, there was one of me and my housemate in Azadi Sq., there was one of me out in the street, and so on and so forth. As soon as I set foot in Ward 209, within the first week, they took me to court to make sure that I could not be released on bail yet again; they put all the three previous files (the one concerning July 9, 2004, and the two concerning the gathering in front of the UN), for which I had been previously released on bail, together and made them into one single file, sentencing me to three years in prison altogether. At some point in the court, the Judge asked me how come I had ended up not serving the four-year sentence issued previously. “Was it a conditional pardon?”, he asked. “No, I was pardoned by the leadership,” I said. He said, “I'll make you serve those four years, too.” And this was indeed what he did. Because of my connection to that certain human rights group, they charged me with connections to the People's Mojahedin organization and sentenced me to another four years in prison and 74 lashes.
Solitary Confinement in Ward 209 of Evin Prison
In Ward 209, there was a room like a solitary confinement cell, only without a ceiling. They would take me there for fresh air breaks. I was really angry at the way the officials treated me there and, at the same time, the interrogator had told me that he planned to make sure that I served the rest of my sentence in Ward 209. So, I broke all the security rules that I could, so they would transfer me from the detention center to the prison as soon as possible. I made a lot of noise and misbehaved in all ways possible. They, in turn, changed my place frequently.
Towards the end of the summer of 2005, before they sent me to Rajaishahr, I was taken to court one more time to receive my sentence for the previous cases. The hearing was held in Branch 6, presided by Judge Hasan Zare' Dehnavi, also known as Judge Haddad. The charges brought against me in that court included membership in the Democratic Front of the Association of Muslim Students and Graduates; forming an illegal group; and disrupting public peace and order; and I received a seven year prison sentence for it, reduced to three in the Court of Appeal.
During the time that I spent in Evin Prison, I was only allowed a couple of five-minute phone calls to my family. And that, I think, only happened about a month and a half or two months after my arrest. But at the end of the interrogation sessions, during which the interrogator recounted films for me, he would ask me if I needed anything, and I would say a phone call, and sometimes he gave me the phone. I was also able to see my sister once, not in the visitor's hall but in the guard's room at the prison entrance. My sister had learned about my detention one week after my arrest.
One day they told me to call my sister and to tell her to come visit me the next day. On the evening of that same day we raised hell and made a lot of noise over the fact that they had not given us any tea. At that time, a young man called Mohsen Bapiri was also in solidarity confinement with me. Technically it was not solitary confinement, as there were two of us in one cell. I was not always alone in 209. Sometimes a crazy Kuwaiti young Arab guy, who was either really crazy or pretended to be in order to escape interrogations, was there with me, or this Mohsen guy who was from Orumieh. Mohsen was a supporter of the Royal Association. He was also making noise over the tea problem, following me, when suddenly someone opened the door and said to bring our cups and get our tea. We got up and went towards the door to get our tea. Suddenly I felt something hitting my face. Everything turned white, and I could not breathe anymore. It happened so fast that I had no idea what had happened. I thought they had shot us with a Taser or something.
Later I learned that they had sprayed our cell with a fire extinguisher. I had got on their nerves so much that the guard had sprayed the cell with a fire extinguisher through the opening on the door. For five minutes, we could only breathe from under the door, because there was no oxygen in the cell. Then they took us out. We were totally white from head to toe like snowmen. They took us to the cell next door. Then I noticed the smell of something burning. The next day I complained to my interrogator and then went to the head of Ward 209 to complain. He accused us of having set the cell on fire! I said, “Let's go take a look and see what exactly we have set on fire.” They took us back to the cell, and I saw that they had set a newspaper there on fire. They had started a fire there so they could accuse us of having set the cell on fire.
One of the reasons why I constantly misbehaved in Ward 209 was that they had taken one of our friends, Saeed Masuri, there before, and he was kept in solitary confinement in Ward 209 for two years. My interrogator had told me that he planned to do the same with me and to keep me there so long that I would repent. I told him in return that I would do something to force him to send me to Rajaishahr. I started making so much noise, and I received such a beating for it that, after about three months or three months and a half, they were forced to transfer me to Rajaishahr Prison.
I think now that if we really meant to fight, we had to act much more consciously. We had to study much more. Because we didn't act consciously, we paid a high price and, as a result, we lost a lot of our forces. Many who were older than I and who had a lot more influence were more passionate about fighting, more talented, more learned, and also more revolutionary, gave up their activities and went after their own lives. Many withdrew from the struggle once they saw the prices that I paid.
Transfer to Rajaishahr Prison
After three months, they transferred me in cuffs and shackles from Ward 209 of Evin Prison to Rajaishahr Prison of Karaj. Even though it is a terrifying prison, has many problems, and is very filthy, Rajaishahr Prison has its own unique freedoms too. Inside the ward is exactly like a jungle. The atmosphere is so aggressive than even the officials themselves don’t dare enter the ward. When I first entered Rajaishahr, they took me to the quarantine ward. There one of the guards started beating me up while my hands and feet were cuffed. I don’t know whether he was ordered to do so or what. But I did know that it was not going to last and that it would be a different world as soon as I left the quarantine.
The first ward I was taken to after my quarantine in Rajaishahr was Ward 6, and I was there for almost two months. In my second month, I and a friend, also a political prisoner, went on hunger strike in protest, having been held among non-political prisoners. At that time they had dedicated a side section to political prisoners, and our complaint concerned why we were being held there while we demanded to be taken to where our other friends were being held. There was a small hall that they called Side Section 5, because it was next to Hall 5. It could not really be considered a hall, because it was much smaller than a hall. They kept political prisoners there, because there were small in number.
On the fifth day of our hunger strike, they took me to Ward 5 and my friend to Ward 1. Ward 5 was also for non-political prisoners, but it was much worse and filthier than Ward 6. The more dangerous inmates were held there. Inmates with hepatitis and AIDS, and those on drugs and so forth, were held in Ward 5. At this time, the numbers of the wards and halls had been changed. They held those who had some neurosis, or were in other words crazy, in Ward 1. After about 20 days in Ward 5, they transferred me to Ward 4, which was relatively clean. Basically, what they told me was that they had orders from the Ministry of Intelligence not to take us to the political ward, but that, if I broke my hunger strike, they would take me to Ward 4. I was on hunger strike for 25 days total. Of course I did drink water. They transferred me to Ward 4, and I was there for about four months, until the Persian New Year had come and gone in March 2006. I was in Ward 4 when, on February 7, 2006, Hojjat Zamani was executed.
It was during the Norooz holidays, in late March 2006, that I had a fight with one of the ward guards. I usually did not show up to the morning headcount. One of my conditions (for breaking my hunger strike) was that, since there was no morning headcount at the political ward, I would also not show up to morning headcount, no matter what ward I was held at. One of the new guards, who did not know about this, asked me why I had not shown up to the headcount and called me a bad name. I snapped back, and the dispute got heated, but the wardmaster came and separated us, fortunately, before the fight became physical. Nevertheless, the guard reported this to the prison manager and told him that either I would have to leave the ward or he would. The prison manager then ordered that they take me to the political prisoners ward. They suddenly called my name the next morning, and I was transferred there. I said that if I knew it would work like this, I would have had a fight with the guard sooner! Basically, after 6 months, I was in the political prisoners ward.
At Rajaishahr, the phone call and visitor situation worked well almost the whole time, except for the final year. We could have visitors once a week, which for me was basically once in two weeks, because one week was for male visitors, and the next week for female visitors, and I had only female visitors. But I could have ten-to-fifteen minute phone calls daily. In addition to this, we could have our own mobile phones. As I said, Rajaishahr has its own perks. It’s not free, but you can find everything, including mobile phones, MP3 players, and Walkman players, secretly. During the time that I spent in prison, I heard that my friends had sent me postcards, but unfortunately I never received them. They would confiscate particularly the letters sent from abroad; those would never reach us. After 2009, they confiscated letters sent from inside the country as well.
The sanitary conditions are really very different from ward to ward at Rajaishahr. There are eight wards in total, one of them belonging to the Ministry of Intelligence, and Ward 8 belonging to the Revolutionary Guards. Also, about a year ago, they established a new ward called Ward 10, which is located outside the central building of the prison. There are wards at Rajaishahr where inmates on drugs and inmates that really ought to be admitted to mental institutions are held. I mean, there are people there who cannot even eat on their own and who spill their food on the floor, with no one there to clean their mess. You see these people just sleeping at the corners of the corridors. Their bodies are covered in sores and wounds from lice bites and scratching. There are lice and bedbugs and all sorts of insects there.
Ward 4 has pretty good sanitary conditions. There is still lice and stuff but, all in all, it is more tolerable. At least they clean the toilets once a day. Ward 5 is one of the most horrible wards: perhaps the filthiest ward at the time. There were lice, there were addicts who would inject drugs and had AIDS and hepatitis, and all sorts of diseases and insects and things could be found there. Ward 6 was something in between Ward 4 and Ward 5, not very clean but not so dirty either.
I was due to be released on November 7th but, instead, I was released on December 26th. I spent the summer in solitary confinement, because I had filmed one of the political prisoners who had cancer, but for whom the officials did nothing to provide treatment. His name was Mohsen Dogmechi, and he eventually died of cancer. It took until December 26th for me to be acquitted of my charge for filming Mohsen Dogmechi. It is true that from May 23, 2005, to November 7, 2010, does not make seven years, but since I had already spent five months in prison at Evin, they subtracted those five months from my seven-year prison sentence, and so my term was complete by November 7th.
Mohsen Dogmechi had cancer, and yet they wouldn’t take him to the hospital for treatment. We went on hunger strike for three days to protest this. We wrote letters to the head of the prison and the Public Prosecutor. We realized that, no matter what we did, they were not going to transfer him to the hospital. He had both gastrointestinal and pancreatic cancer, and he was suffering from pain right before our eyes. I filmed him with my mobile phone and slipped the film out to be published outside the prison. Of course, the film was published a little late, after he had already passed away. In July 2010, they took me, along with Saleh Kohandel, Farzad Madadzadeh, and Piruz Mansuri, to Ward 240 of Evin Prison with regard to this film.
Exactly from June 25, 2010, until the end of September, during the peak of the summer heat, I spent three months going through interrogations while being held in solitary confinement at Ward 240 of Evin Prison. One week after being transferred to Evin Prison, I received my official statement of charges: “propaganda against the state through filming inside prison,” with which all four of us (me, Saleh Kohandel, Farzad Madadzadeh, and Piruz Mansuri) were charged. At the time, I had no other way but to accept responsibility for the film, since it was in my voice. The guy came and put his laptop in front of me and played the film and said, “This is your voice, take responsibility for it.” I said that, yes, it was my voice, but that I had no intention of making the film public. I said I had taken the film as a memorandum for Mr. Mohsen Dogmechi’s children, and it was Mr. Dogmechi himself who had made the film public. We were charged with propaganda against the state, which was punishable with a one-year imprisonment in and of itself. I said that the film contained no propaganda against any of the foundations of the state and only opposed the dispatch branch of Rajaishahr Prison for refusing to send Mr. Dogmechi to the hospital for treatment. I was interrogated a total of four times for this case.
This time, during the early days of my transfer to the solitary confinement section of Ward 240, I got in a dispute with the guard over the ban on cigarettes. On my first day, I made some noise to get some cigarettes, because it was impossible to get through solitary confinement without cigarettes. They put me in cuffs and shackles and tied my arms together from behind and covered my mouth so that I could not scream. I was pressing my lips and jaws together so that they could not stuff my mouth with cloth to shut me up. One of the guards stood on my ribs and started to jump up and down, and my ribs broke as a result.
The reason for this violence was that, during our dispute over cigarettes, the guard had said something nasty to me and I had snapped back. I don’t remember now what he said exactly. First, his superior came and called me a dandy. “Dandy yourself and all your family for generations all the way down to you! Watch your mouth!” I said. The guy gave me a backslap. I kicked him in return, and we got in a fight, until they put me in cuffs and shackles. This guy was a guard. There are no ranked officials there. The guards themselves are especially appointed by the Ministry of Intelligence.
I spent a horrible night that night, as I was in cuffs and shackles tied together behind my back. I could not lie on my back because the chains went across my back. At that time they had taken away the carpets and everything and I could not lie down on the bare floor tiles. I also could not lie on my right side because my ribs on that side were broken. I could only lie on my left side, and this way my left arm kept going numb. It was a horrendous situation. If they ask me what the worst torture is, I’d say it is to keep someone in cuffs and shackles attached behind the back overnight. They don’t even have to break any ribs. The next day they took me for some X-rays of my ribs and gave me some painkillers, and that was that.
Eventually, after seven years in prison, I was evicted from the charge of propaganda against the state and released on December 26, 2011.
I arrived in Turkey in the spring of 2012. I work with human rights groups these days. When I was first released from prison, I used to sleep very lightly, especially in Tehran. Even the sound of a pigeon landing on the ventilation decks could jolt me out of sleep with stress. But I sleep quite well, now, though the stress from my prison years still affects me.
When a non-political prisoner is beaten up or executed, the media does not react and, as a result, the prisoners are tyrannized even more. The conditions are such that the prisoners themselves prefer to be beaten up but to not have new files opened for them, because, for instance, then they would have to spend a month in solitary confinement or go to court again for a new verdict. Things had gotten to a point where I figured they could not be improved by just writing some letters to stir up some emotions, and I could not find any other way but to send out a film that showed prisoners being tortured. In one case, they had pushed a baton up into someone! My main issue with them was about this torture of the non-political prisoners. At the end, Hasan Akharian, one of the prison managers well-known for his violence, was put on the list of individuals sanctioned by the European Union, and the authorities moved him from his position to make him the head of the Sentence Implementation Unit. Though they actually moved him to a higher rank, the fact that he was no longer in direct contact with prisoners, as in his previous position, was a positive development in and of itself.
This testimony is prepared based on a Skype interview conducted in three sessions on April 28, April 30, and July 15, 2012.